AUCKLAND, NZ – It’s been a rare week (lately anyway) for All Black fans, having to chew over an unexpected loss and the reality that the threat of the Bledisloe Cup leaving New Zealand for the first time in quite a while. However, for that to happen the Wallabies will still need to triumph at Eden Park, a venue they haven’t beaten the All Blacks at for 29 years. 29 years!
Back in 1986 the Wallabies, with the likes of Michael Lynagh, Nick Farr-Jones and David Campese, had a pretty comprehensive 22-9 win on Eden Park to seal a 2-1 series victory. Let’s just think about what the world was like back then:
- The crew of the Challenger space shuttle found out the hard way that space flight can sometimes result in a one way trip
- Real estate agents in the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear plant suddenly had their work cut out for them
- ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by Falco was the biggest song and ‘Top Gun’ the biggest movie of the year
Plus only a handful of players from both teams playing this weekend had actually even been born when that game took place, so that gives you some perspective of how freakin’ long ago we’re talking here.
At Eden Park, Auckland: All Blacks vs. Wallabies #NZLvAUS
All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock. Bench: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Wallabies: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio. Bench: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Kane Douglas, 21 David Pocock, 22 Matt Giteau, 23 Kurtley Beale.
There is a fair bit of symmetry between the trans-Tasman clashes last year in this match, which should probably concern the Wallabies. The 2014 edition saw a seemingly unstoppable All Black team halted in their quest for the all-time test win streak in Sydney, held to a 12-all draw by a home side that probably deserved the victory. Last week saw them do one better than last year and actually get that win, but they should very much keep in mind the result of 2014’s next match Eden Park – a 51-20 loss – which could be best described as a Ronda Rousey-like beatdown. That was the All Blacks at their most ruthless, so the Wallabies should be prepared for that sort of attitude from the home side.
The big change for the All Blacks comes in the midfield, where Ma’a Nonu returns to make life a living hell for the Wallabies. It’s a timely return from injury, SBW got shown up pretty badly last weekend, offering little on attack against a speedy defense. In the pack Sam Whitelock comes back in to team up with Brodie Retallick, he’ll add some grunt that was missing last week. Also Victor Vito gets a chance to impress, offering a mobile workrate to the loose forwards.
However, it’s the Wallabies that have made the change that’s got everyone talking. Yes, Quade Cooper returns to the number 10 jersey, to the delight of the more boorish fans who will be attending this game. As well as him, Henry Speight comes in to line up against Nehe Milner-Skudder and Nic White is rewarded for his heroics off the bench last week. He’d better stay fit, the Wallabies have opted for a 6/2 forward split on the bench, meaning there’s no specialist halfback cover. Their contingency plan would see Matt Giteau move in to 9, but it’s a pretty brave move. After their effective use of David Pocock and Michael Hooper in tandem last week, the visitors revert to a more traditional loose forward combo with Wyclef Palu getting the nod at 8.
Dan Carter’s jittery goal kicking last week has reinforced calls from a few corners to give Lima Sopoaga a little bit more consideration heading into the RWC, so the 104 test veteran needs to have a good game. There’s also been a fair bit of shade thrown at the front row, who were shoved around ANZ Stadium last weekend. They’re unchanged, but also have their critics to answer.
Given that the All Blacks expansive game plan was turned into little more than a procession of harmless lateral ball movement last weekend by the Wallabies, it’s not unreasonable to expect a tighter game plan this weekend. Meanwhile, the Wallabies would’ve been buoyed by the fact that they got the previous victory despite minimal contributions from regular weapons Israel Folau and Tevita Kuridrani. This should give them the confidence to open up a bit more, which would explain the inclusion of Henry Speight.
Prediction: Two bad All Black performances in a row are about as rare as a New Zealand-based member of the Wayne Barnes Fan Club, so they should get the victory. It won’t be as much of a hiding as last year’s one, though. All Blacks by 10.
One last thing – the ITM Cup kicked off here last night with a 23-all draw between Auckland and Southland. It probably would’ve been a win to Auckland had it not been for this stunning bit of defending by Southland replacement back James Schrader. There’s a lesson here kids: never give up till the whistle’s gone!
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